by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Abraham was old, advanced in age..." [24:1]
The words "advanced in age," or more literally, "coming in days," seem
repetitive, because we already know that Abraham was old. But Rav Acha
said: "you have a person who is old, but who isn't 'with days,' or 'with
days' who isn't old, but here the age was commensurate with the days, and
the days were commensurate with the age." [Medrash, Breishis Rabba 59]
The Vilna Gaon, Rav Eliyahu Kramer, says that we can understand this based
upon a comment of the Zohar to Genesis 47:29, which is translated literally
as "And the days of Israel came close to die." When a person passes away,
all of his days come for an accounting before G-d. If a person was
righteous, then all of his days come willingly, as it were, to demonstrate
that they were all spent wisely. But if a person was wicked, then those
days are embarrassed to come before HaShem!
So when Rav Acha said in the Medrash, "you have a person who is old but who
isn't 'with days,'" this refers to an elderly but guilty person, whose days
don't want to accompany him -- because all they can demonstrate is the amount
of evil he managed to do in his lifetime. And then you have a wonderful,
righteous person, whose days escort him, but who perfects his soul and
passes away at a young age -- this is "a person 'with days' who isn't old."
Our forefather Avraham was both; he was of advanced age, and his days were
all coming with him before G-d.
This week, a young lady passed away in Baltimore after a sudden illness.
And, as so frequently happens, most of our community did not know what we
had in our midst, until she was gone. Those who knew her testify that she
was the very definition of a person who was not old, but was "with days,"
days filled with Torah and good deeds.
She was the type of girl who visited nursing homes to cheer the residents
-- not occasionally, but regularly.
"It's not often," said one of those who eulogized her, "that you talk about
a 17-year-old as being a 'marbitz Torah,' one who spreads Torah." Yet in
her case, it was certainly true. She had, for years, taught in a small
community program, reaching out to Jewish emigres from the former Soviet
Her principal said that she was a person who shunned the limelight. "She
never once headed a committee, and almost always did all the work." And he
said that you could ask any girl in Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, where she had
studied for eleven years, if she was ever crossed by this young woman --
and get the same answer. To slight another was outside her very nature.
There is more to say, much more, by those who knew her. We on the periphery
can only feel the privilege and joy of being part of a nation that has such
people in it, and share the sorrow of losing Necha Yutta bas haRav Yaakov a"h,
a person so young who was nonetheless "with days."